Fish Stick Knife Gun is a pretty well known memoir by Geoffrey Canada, who these days is making an impressive dent in the lack of child safety in Harlem. The book is about his growing-up years in the South Bronx and I've never read it. Just heard of it.
I have, however, read the new graphic adaptation. (Disclaimer: Beacon Press sent me a free copy.)
Like most comics adaptations of prose books, it's hard not to see the holes left behind and wondering what once filled them, but unlike most such books, this one still feels like a complete object. I believe I could give this book to someone and they would be satisfied.
One reason I wanted to read this book was in hopes that it would be a book I could pass on to my young black male students. So I suppose the best question to ask is whether it meets this goal. Not having handed it out yet, I don't know. But I suspect the answer is yes. Here's why:
It doesn't preach. It's straightforward. Yeah, at the end it argues for Change, but it does so from a voice of experience, with a voice that has proved it's got cred.
For those who got through childhood with ten or fewer fights, this book is a highly palatable means to understanding what it means to grow up poor in the inner city. Do this and Our America and we're hitting a couple generations of mess.
Now for the art.
I was not familiar with Jamar Nicholas prior to this, but I'm impressed. His touch is light. He never overstates the violence. Keeping it quiet makes it impossible to look away. And, unable to look away, we are forced to confront Canada's story in both its ugliness and its basic human beauty.
In other words, Nicholas, like Canada, doesn't let readers pretend these kids are The Other. They are knowable and human and true.
Now, puffery aside, this is just a good book. I don't see it winning any major awards (unless they're more content-based rather than execution-based), but it has serious potential to be the Right Book. Let's get this into libraries and classrooms. This is a book to spread around.
Bonus: Read a bit about the book and the first few pages.